Design Hacks to Make Your Home Feel Like a Hotel

With most of us camped out at home, we asked interior designer, HGTV star and compulsive traveller Tommy Smythe how to bring a hotel’s sense of luxury and well–being into our own spaces (good news: it’s possible even in the tiniest condo). “The task that a homeowner has is the same as a hotel designer,” Smythe explains. “You want to create a space that is comfortable, has a sense of order, but also feeds our need as humans for visual beauty and conviviality as a family unit.”

April 3, 2020
An elegant and sunny library at the Ham Yard Hotel in London
Kit Kemp’s hotel designs make you feel like you’re a guest in someone’s home.   Photo: Ham Yard Hotel/Simon Brown

Think like a hotelier. “What we respond to in hotels is this idea of preparedness: they’re ready for us when we get there. Especially as a business traveller, the last thing you want to be thinking about before your meeting is Where’s the quiet place? Where are the towels? You should be ready and not flummoxed. But you can do this for yourself, your family or your partner. Even for a mundane evening at home, set up an honour bar like at the Kit Kemp–designed Firmdale Hotels in England where, after a long flight, it feels like a soft landing to wander into a beautiful space and mix your own drink. Put ice in a bucket, have slices of lemon at the ready and sip a couple of gin and tonics while watching Netflix. You’ll feel like you’ve arrived.”

Suite at the Moxy Times Square hotel in New York
Inspired by their work at the Moxy Times Square, Yabu Pushelberg launched a homewares line, Departo, so you can bring their transformative furniture home.

Max out a small–space. “The Moxy Times Square in New York, designed by Canadians George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, has tiny rooms, but they have everything you could possibly need. There’s a long wall of pegs and everything is hung up: a fold–out table and chairs, hangers for clothes. That minimalist approach comes to us from the Shakers in the Northeastern U.S., who hung everything on the wall to create work or gathering spaces. When it’s applied to small–space living, it makes perfect sense. You might not have floor space, but you have wall space. Take down only what you need, like a table and chair for eating takeout.”

The Instagram-worthy bar at Le Coucou in New York’s 11 Howard hotel
The Instagram–worthy bar at Le Coucou in New York’s 11 Howard hotel.   Photo: Jennifer Chase

Go beyond the bedroom. “Hotel rooms are special, but the public spaces are where the designers go all out. Roman and Williams’ bar at Le Coucou in New York’s 11 Howard is one of the most Instagrammed rooms. At the Carlyle, where my family used to stay when they were travelling with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1960s*, the history of design in North America is in the building: the lobby by Dorothy Draper, the dining room by Mark Hampton and, of course, Bemelmans Bar. Create something new to experience for when you can invite people over – rearrange furniture, paint, change the art around. Little things.”

*Yes, Tommy is the great grandson of that Conn Smythe.

Keep it clean, folks. “We’re going to have a housekeeping moment. Part of the luxury of hotel life is that the bed is made, the bathroom is clean, the coffee maker is set up and ready to go; everything is done for us. That’s lovely, but that’s not happening at home. Everyone can make their bed, though – picture a rumpled bed at the end of a long day, versus plumped pillows that welcome you visually. Fold things, hang things up, do the dishes, put them away. By the end of the day, you’ll have forgotten the investment of time and effort you put in, but you’ll enjoy a clean and orderly house.”

Suites with full length windows facing the ocean at Fogo Island Inn
Fogo Island Inn, Smythe’s favourite place in the world, features rooms that celebrate the design vernacular of Newfoundland, including handmade quilts.   Photo: Alex Fradkin

Remember to #StayHome. “The most magnificent hotels are a celebration of where you’ve landed. If you’re not giving me tiles in Portugal, you’ve lost me. I want starched staff uniforms, mahogany furniture and eccentricity in London. In Paris, I want fresh flowers and the smell of beautiful food. The most diminished experience is the generic one. Being required to stay in our communities right now is not such a bad thing. Fogo Island Inn by Todd Saunders, my favourite place in the world, is proof that everything you need is within arm’s reach – handmade quilts, a wood–burning fireplace, ocean views. Everything is considered and thoughtful and of its place. If they can do that on a rock at the edge of the world, we all can.”

Tommy Smythe sitting on the bed in the Lucky Stryke suite of Toronto's Gladstone Hotel
Smythe designed the Lucky Stryke room at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. It features his screen–printed art, inspired by vintage matchbooks from iconic local gay bars.   Photo: Ryan Bolton

Plot your next stay. “This is a really good time to practice hopeful planning and community support. My boyfriend and I have pledged to book a trip and pre–pay for the hotel. We want to support the travel industry. And we want to see ourselves out in the world; it’s essential to our mental health and wellbeing. So, we’re going to New Zealand. We’re going to start in a marble bathroom, end in a marble bathroom, and camp in the wilderness in between.”